Search engine optimization (SEO) is constantly changing, but certain elements (like your meta description) aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
A meta description is a 160-character-max summary of your webpage’s content. It appears in the search results of search engines (like Google) mostly when the phrase being searched for appears within your summary.
You’ve likely noticed it under the headlines as you’ve hunted for the most relevant search results on your own.
SEO strategy often places a lot of emphasis on SEO-friendly headlines, but a strong meta description can help convince a user to click on your link out of all the other search results.
In other words, the purpose of a meta description is to convince the user that he or she should click on your search result.
While search engines themselves typically suggest that there is no direct ranking benefit from a meta description, the indirect benefit is clear. Search engines do pay attention to click-through rate (CTR), meaning that the more people click on your result, the higher you could move up in the rankings.
Below are eight tips to write a meta description that will drive both clicks and conversions.
Keep it short
This is a common suggestion for most forms of digital copy. While technically, you get 160 characters, most will try to stay under 155 if not shorter than that (like 120).
The reason is not only tied to the allowed length but also the nature of the user. When someone is faced with a webpage full of search results, skimming is an automatic reaction.
We skim the headlines, sources and meta descriptions to find the result that ultimately serves our need and deserves our click.
Use an active, actionable voice
When thinking about your meta description being the invitation to view your content, speaking in an active voice is a must.
What will users get by clicking on your result?
Think about it this way: What problem could you be solving for users? What value are you offering on this particular page?
Anything vague will lose most users. Be clear, and be direct.
Include a call-to-action
Speaking of actionable language, you should always include a call-to-action (CTA) in your meta description.
CTAs are nothing new in marketing. Just think of your search result as the product you’re trying to sell. Even something as simple as “learn more,” “try for free,” and so on can be the tipping point for users to click on your link.
Your focus keyword should make an appearance
Google can be more inclined to rank your page in search results when the keyword being searched for matches a part of the text in your meta description.
In fact, Google will highlight the searched word throughout the results as an additional signal of value to the user skimming the results.
But beware: Incorporating keywords needs to read and appear natural. Think conversational tone. It is possible to overload a meta description with keywords and look spammy while also lowering your search ranking at the same time.
Meta description about a product? Include specifications
Have you ever searched for content about a specific product and found the search results vague and disappointing?
Take a cue from your own experience. When a meta description is about a product, take the opportunity to highlight some of the technical specifications.
Be reflective of your true content
This might sound obvious, but it’s an important reminder: Your meta description should not act like clickbait for users.
There are a few reasons for this.
The first is that you want to provide a great user experience. A user could almost immediately leave and will be that much less likely to ever return if you hoodwink the click-through and don’t deliver on what’s promised.
Other than that, Google is definitely anti-clickbait. That almost-immediate departure from that user? That’s considered into your bounce rate. A high bounce rate will factor into lower search rankings on Google.
Avoid double quotation marks
When using quotation marks in a meta description, it’s possible that Google will cut off that description at the quotation mark.
Why? Because of the HTML coding language. Without diving into a rabbit hole, double quotation marks serve a function beyond just marking a quote.
But if you have to use quotation marks in your meta description, refer to this HTML coding workaround and include that in your description so that it loads correctly for search results.
It’s less common for a website these days to only have one page, so with multiple pages comes a need for multiple, unique meta descriptions.
Many website content managers have the ability to personalize each page’s meta description, but if you don’t have the time or ability, know that you are better off leaving the meta descriptions blank (and let Google automatically fill in with portions of text from your page) than to have however many duplicate (aka unhelpful) meta descriptions floating around.
Google itself has an additional tip if you find yourself in this boat: “If you don’t have time to create a description for every single page, try to prioritize your content: At the very least, create a description for the critical URLs like your home page and popular pages.”
Of course, keep in mind that Google will switch out your meta description for a portion of your text copy if it thinks that will be more relevant to the user. Just like anything else in SEO, so many efforts are merely at the whim of Google.